Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Birmingham Veteran, a Red Poppy, and a Caring Saint

Veteran's Day poster, 2014
Veteran's Day

Today, November 11, is Veteran’s Day in the United States.  The holiday was originally known as Armistice Day. It was in 1918, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month that a cessation of hostilities was achieved with Armistice of Compiègne. The Great War that had caused so much bloodshed throughout Europe officially came to an end with the Treaty of Versailles in June of the following year, but the fighting stopped on November 11.

According to the National Veteran’s Day website, “In 1945, a World War II veteran from Birmingham, Alabama had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans.  It was Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, who led a delegation to Washington, DC urging then-Army Chief of Staff General Dwight Eisenhower to create a national holiday that honored all veterans. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed legislation formally establishing November 11th as Veterans Day.

“In 1982, President Reagan honored Weeks at the White House with the Presidential Citizenship Medal as the driving force for the national holiday. Weeks led the first National Veterans Day Parade in 1947 in Alabama, and continued the tradition annually until his passing in 1985.”

Thus Birmingham, Alabama has the oldest Veteran’s Day parade in the country. It will happen again today as it has every November 11 since 1947. The parade will start downtown at 1:30 p.m. local time

The Cenotaph in Whitehall
Remembrance Day

In the Commonwealth countries of the UK, after World War II, Armistice Day became Remembrance Day. Like Veterans Day in the U.S., it is a day to remember those in the armed forces who have fought and died in the line of duty for their country. On Remembrance Day, the poppy has become the emblem associated with the holiday due to the poem “In Flanders Fields.” These flowers bloomed across some of the worst battlefields in World War I, their red color becoming symbolic of the bloodshed in battle. 

The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, was built as a memorial to those who died in WWI. On Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday closest to Remembrance Day, wreaths of poppies are laid at the at the Cenotaph Memorial site. 

Martin of Tours shares half his cloak with a beggar

St. Martin's Day

November 11 is also the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. St. Martin was the first person to be canonized as a saint who had not been martyred, being from that first generation to live in the Roman Empire when Christianity was the official state religion. His father was an officer in the Roman Legion and he named his son Martin (“Little Mars”) after the Roman god of war.  Martin became a soldier in the Roman Legion – a requirement of all who were sons of Roman soldiers.  He managed, however, to get the Emperor to release him from military service. As a new convert* to Christianity, young Martin felt he could not serve in a profession that required him to fight and kill. Martin would later become priest and bishop. In addition to being a promoter of peace, Martin was an advocate for the poor and the common folk. He refused to live in the customary palace that was expected of a bishop, preferring a simple monk’s abode. “Martin” became the most popular given name in France  due to the people’s devotion to St. Martin of Tours.  The name was popular throughout Europe as well, as indicated by Martin Luther of Germany, also named for the saint from Tours.

The website for the Council of Europe states: "Saint Martin of Tours has been part of Europe's collective memory since the fourth century. A tireless traveller around Europe for his entire life, this European ahead of his time, who symbolises the universal value of sharing."

Although he was a soldier and is the patron saint of soldiers, beggars, weavers and tailors, Martin began his vocation as a Christian with his famous renunciation of war. Some claim that it was no coincidence that Armistice Day, which ended the terrible conflict of the World War I, became a reality on St. Martin’s own feast day. 

*From the Wikipedia article on St. Martin's Day:

November 11 is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, who started out as a Roman soldier. He was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying from the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me."


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